Meet the new ethics boss, same as the old boss!
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s hand-picked chairman of the embattled Joint Commission on Public Ethics cast the deciding vote Tuesday that blocked action to rescind the agency’s prior approval of disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial $5.1 million COVID-19 book contract.
Eight votes of the 14 member JCOPE are needed to pass a motion or resolution.
But the motion introduced by Commissioner Gary Lavine garnered just seven votes of the nine commissioners present, while just two, including chairman Jose Nieves, voted no.
In another move that raised eyebrows, three other commissioners who were present for the start of the meeting were missing in action on the vote on the Cuomo book deal, some four hours later, after JCOPE emerged from a private session.
The three no-shows also prevented an eighth vote to void JCOPE’s prior approval of Cuomo’s pandemic memoir — thus protecting the disgraced ex-governor’s profit-making venture.
Lavine’s motion said the approval of Cuomo’s book deal should be voided because only one staff member was involved in the decision.
Martin Levine, JCOPE’s deputy general and then co-executive director, last year approved Cuomo’s profit-making book contract.
Cuomo agreed that state government resources would not be used to prepare the book under the ethics agreement with JCOPE.
“I move to void the opinion of the deputy general counsel [Martin Levine] acting in the capacity as acting co-executive director approving Gov. Cuomo’s publishing activity on the ground that there was a failure of required concurrence by the other acting co-executive director,” Lavine, who was appointed by Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport).
Lavine was referring to Monica Stamm, the legal counsel, who was then the co-executive director because CEO Michael Rosen had resigned. Stamm and the 14-member commission didn’t approve Cuomo’s book deal, he said.
An amendment to the motion said the book deal was approved based on “material facts that were omitted” or “misrepresentations.”
The defeated motion also would have given Cuomo, who is no longer in office, 20 days to re-apply for JCOPE’s blessing.
JCOPE last month also voted to allow Cuomo to keep the profits from his book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Lavine said he would submit his motion at a future meeting when more members are present.
He previously said the approval “was illegal, in my opinion,” because JCOPE’s board members didn’t get to vote on it.
Nieves, Hochul’s appointee, defended his no-vote.
“I voted my conscience. I don’t believe the new members of the commission were provided information to support the motion,” Nieves told The Post Tuesday night.
He said Lavine’s motion was “poorly worded” and claimed revoking the Cuomo book deal approval was unprecedented as there was no other instance in JCOPE’s history where the commissioners overrode such a decision delegated to top staffers.
Meanwhile, advocates for nursing home residents killed by COVID-19 slammed Hochul for JCOPE’s vote to protect Cuomo’s book deal. They were outraged by Cuomo’s nursing home policies, including an order during the early days of the pandemic that forced nursing homes to accept recovering COVID-19 patients discharged from hospitals.
Hochul met with some of the nursing home families last week.
“[email protected] all the goodwill you began last week has ended with your vote to help your predecessor’s book deal profiting off the deaths of our loved ones and gaslighting the public with his lies,” tweeted Janice Dean.
“I can’t believe we gave you the time of day and allowed you to see our tears of grief. Shame on you. A year ago we were outside a Brooklyn nursing home with a casket full of Cuomo’s book covers protesting his order to admit over 9,000 Covid positive patients into nursing homes. Today @GovKathyHochul gave her stamp of approval on his 5.1 M book,” Dean said.
Two of Hochul’s other appointees to the 14-member JCOPE, Sharon Gerstman and C. Randall Hinrichs, voted to cancel JCOPE approval of Cuomo’s book deal.
A fourth Hochul appointee, Terryl Brown, attended the meeting but left before the vote on the book deal.
Commissioners David McNamara, a Senate Republican appointee, and Colleen DiPirro, a Cuomo appointee, were also present for the meeting but departed before the vote on Cuomo’s book deal.
Nieves insisted that three commissioners who left early had other commitments and were not dodging a tough vote.
Two other commissioners were absent — James McCarthy, an Assembly Republican appointee, and Juanita Newton, a Senate Democratic appointee.
In its prior meeting, JCOPE voted unanimously to launch an independent probe of its own internal operations — including the circumstances surrounding its prior approval of Cuomo’s $5.1 million coronavirus book deal.
Cuomo’s alleged misuse of staffers and other state resources in preparing the book is the subject of a pending criminal investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James and is apparently also part of a criminal probe by federal authorities who are investigating Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic.
The state Assembly Judiciary Committee also investigated the Cuomo book deal as part of its impeachment probe of the ex-governor.